Christian Toledo — A Navy Reactor Operator goes to Columbia!

This is one part in a series of veteran profiles spotlighting Service to School (S2S) and our VetLink program, which connects veterans with highly selective colleges and universities.

Christian Toledo, Columbia ‘19

Hometown: San Francisco, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: Before the Navy, I was a mechanic, a SCUBA diver, and a photographer.

Intended Major: Computer Science, with a focus in Artificial Intelligence

What did you do in the military? I worked as a reactor operator on-board a nuclear fast attack submarine as a part of their Engineering Department. I also worked as a nuclear electronics technician; so I would operate, repair, and maintain the reactor as well as any related instrumentation or control systems.

What was your proudest accomplishment in the military? My proudest accomplishment in the Navy was when I was qualified in submarine warfare. While it’s standard to do so for every new qualified submariner, I don’t think I’ll ever forget receiving my brand new pin while they congratulated me over the announcing circuit and sounded the klaxon.

How did you hear about S2S? A fellow service member reached out to me to let me know about the organization — someone else who was able to work with S2S as a college applicant and wanted to help in the same way.

What was the best part of S2S for you? The best part of S2S is the humility they bring to the process. Everyone in the process — from my ambassador (Dylan McCracken) to Ms. Beth Morgan — continuously reminds you that it was your accomplishments and not the organization that got you into college. It does a lot for your self-confidence knowing how many doors are actually open based on your own merits, especially during the often nerve-wracking transition from military to civilian life. Because of this, S2S had a much bigger helping hand in my college admission process than they think.

Why did you decide to pursue college? I didn’t do too well in college prior to the military, but after enlisting, I realized how much I actually liked learning. I was set on coming back, especially since I knew I’d appreciate it much more this time around.

How has the transition been from the military to civilian life? There’s a lot of anxiety and I think it’s pretty normal. Should I work, or go to school? Where would I work/go to school? After years of having orders and that regimented lifestyle, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and directionless.

What’s your favorite part about Columbia? You’re surrounded by these accomplished students and professors with really interesting background stories. I go to school with a New York Times bestseller and a North Korean defector. I’m always excited to meet new people because of this.

What advice would you give to future applicants? You’ve accomplished a lot more than you realize during your service. It’s easy to get caught up in what you can’t do and forget what you’ve already done. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there — you’ll be much happier you did.

What are your goals post-graduation? I definitely plan on working with S2S’s MBA operations to try and go to business school!

Columbia University, established in 1754, is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. It is consistently cited as one of the world’s most prestigious universities. For more information, please visit

Service to School is a 501(3) non-profit committed to helping our nation’s veterans earn admission to highly selective colleges and universities. Our mission is to help every transitioning military veteran win admission to the best college or graduate school possible.

In 2015, Service to School launched VetLink, an initiative within our larger mentoring program, which partners our organization with some of the best colleges and universities in the U.S. including Amherst College, Cornell University, Emory University, Harvard College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Notre Dame, Pomona College, Princeton University, Smith College, Stanford University, Williams College, and Yale University.

Are you a transitioning veteran thinking about applying to college to earn your undergraduate or bachelor’s degree? Sign up for help from Service to School.